As most of you who follow Big Jolly Politics know, last summer I stated that, if Governor Perry entered the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination, I would support him. At the time I made two things clear: the reasons for my support; and that I could and would support any of the other candidates if any of them won the nomination. The reasons for my initial support have not changed, nor has my commitment to support the eventual nominee.
This post is not meant to be an obituary of the Perry campaign, or to signal my abandonment of my initial support. However, with just a month before the Iowa Caucuses, I think it is time for those of us who are supporting candidates who are not doing well in the polls to begin to make that all too realistic assessment: “if things don’t improve, who is my second choice?” Because the field may (and I stress the word “may”) be narrowing to a race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, I want to share with you how I assess these candidates, and why (if Governor Perry’s performance in the caucus and primary votes ends up being consistent with his current standing in the polls) I will support Newt Gingrich as my second choice in such a two-man race.
Before I get to the heart of that analysis, though, I want to digress for a moment to discuss two preliminary points in order to provide some background for my choice: my reasons for not supporting any of the other candidates as my second choice; and my view of the current state of conservative political philosophy within the GOP.
Here is my quick assessment of the rest of the field:
- Herman Cain appears to be a good man with a grasp of the current economic issues, as well as a superior grasp of management and organizational strategies, which will be needed in the next GOP administration. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cain twice last spring, and, based on my own observations, the current accusations against him don’t match the person I met and observed over the course of a couple of hours during each event. I have wanted to support Mr. Cain, but I simply can’t for one simple reason—based on what he has said consistently since the beginning of his candidacy about foreign affairs and military policy, I have not felt he was ready to be Commander-in-Chief.
- Ron Paul has my admiration for his dogged commitment to his Libertarian viewpoint, and I agree with his position on a whole range of specific issues. However, contrary to some rumors that have floated among local Republicans over the last few years, I have never supported Dr. Paul, or his full-blown philosophy. To go into all the reasons for my disagreement would fill more than one post, but suffice it to say that I am not a Libertarian—my conservatism is more consistent with that of Burke, Kirk and a correct interpretation of Adam Smith, than with the teachings of Ayn Rand and the political views of Ludwig von Mises; and my view of America’s role in the world in the 70 years since Pearl Harbor is more consistent with the views of either Nixon or Reagan, than with those of Dr. Paul.
- Michelle Bachman is impressive in her command of the details of certain issues and the intensity of her determination. However, I do not believe that she has an adequate comparative level of experience that would justify supporting her over the other candidates who have more legislative and management experience.
- Jon Huntsman has an impressive background in government management, both domestically as a governor, and internationally as an ambassador, and shows a command of a broad array of issues facing the country. However, he appears to have a diplomat’s temperament, and the few men who have been elected President with such a temperament, did not fair well in the White House (e.g., John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover). He might be an excellent choice for Secretary of State in the next GOP administration, but he is not my next choice for President.
- Rick Santorum seems to have a command of many issues, and deep desire to address some of the most pressing cultural issues that are at the root of many of our political problems. As a relatively young man, he still has much to offer the nation. However, he comes across as though the main reason he is running is to justify to himself that he is still politically relevant after his landslide loss in his last race for re-election to the Senate. If he is looking for political redemption, he should start a little lower than the Presidency—we don’t have time to elect someone so his ego can be soothed.
Again, I would support any of these candidates against Obama, because they each have the life experiences that make them better prepared to be President in 2013 than does Obama (even counting his time in office since January, 2009). They just aren’t my second choice.
As for the current state of conservatism within the GOP, I want you to visualize a horizontal graph line that represents the spectrum of political views from the far left to the far right, and then place a vertical line at the midpoint of the graph line. The right side of the midline is what we call conservative (including what was once known as Classical Liberalism), and the left side is liberal (or progressive). At least since the 1890s (though I could make a strong argument that what I am about to say applies to the entire history of the two-party system), the Republican Party has been comprised of men and women whose political views and temperaments are predominantly to the right of the midline, and the Democratic Party (with the strong exception being the Southern wing of the party until the late 1960s). Now that we’ve established that graph line in our minds, ignore the left side of the midline.
Focusing just on the right side of the midline, we can draw a horizontal sub-graph line of the conservative side, with its own midline. Although common ideas shared by all conservatives are a belief in limited government and the need for more cost-effective management of government, the midline represents a true demarcation within the spectrum of those views. To the far left side of this sub-graph are those men and women of conservative temperament, who acknowledge limits to government, but who focus on better and more efficient management of all levels of government as the primary method of limiting modern government. Dwight Eisenhower is the archetype of such a conservative.
Closer to the midline on each side are those conservatives who believe there are real limits to the scope and size of government, but who disagree on those limits at each level. Just to the left of the midline are those who see a more robust role for the federal government, while those to the right see any robust role for government being limited to local and state governments. Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln would fall to the left of the midline, while James Madison and Ronald Reagan would fall to the right.
Finally, the far right side of the sub-graph really spreads into two separate lines: those who view government and politics through a Libertarian lens; and those who view government and politics through the prism of their Biblical view of history and morality.
Now, here’s the problem with any simple analysis like this—most conservatives have a blended view of politics that places them all along the spectrum of this sub-graph based on specific issues, but we all have tendencies that tend to place us at specific points along the line as to our whole philosophy. For instance, though I share many views consistent with each group along the spectrum, I fundamentally fall within that group to the right of the midline that believes that the federal government’s role should be limited, and that any robust role for government should be exercised by local and state governments in conjunction with the private sector.
Using my analysis, and based on his public stances, Governor Perry appears to share my tendency, but would be to my right and closer to the end line that most strongly embraces political views based on the Christianity of our heritage. Meanwhile, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich would fall to the left of the midline of the sub-graph.
Romney appears to fall at a point on the further left side of the sub-graph (closer to the mid-point of the overall graph), as he seems to be a man, like an Eisenhower, who has a conservative temperament but whose focus is on limiting government solely through better management and prudent attrition. If I am right, Romney would not fundamentally reform and limit the federal government, but would make sure that it performs its present functions more cost-effectively and thereby would reduce the size and scope of its operation and payroll over time.
In 2007, Gingrich stated in an interview that he was an “Alexander Hamilton-Teddy Roosevelt” type of conservative. Now, for some of you who have learned political science solely from Glenn Beck, such a statement might alarm you—especially the reference to TR (But, like Jefferson, analyzing TR’s political philosophy based on stances he took, or writings he published at any specific point in his career, is highly problematic, because his views changed radically at least twice in his political career. The pre-1907 TR was very different from the TR that came back from Europe in 1910 and ran as a third-party candidate in 1912—and both were different from the final TR who re-embraced the GOP on the eve of the 1916 election). Taking Gingrich’s statement in the context of what he has said, written, and accomplished since the 1970s, and especially in light of the curriculum he created for the “American Civilization” college course he taught in the 1990s, I think Gingrich views the federal government as having real and enforceable constitutional limits, and he would actively reform the present government to make it live within its limits. But, he would interpret the powers given to the government somewhat more expansively than Rick Perry, and Gingrich would use them creatively and robustly to address the nations problems.
For me, if I can’t have the more radical shift of power back to the states and local governments that Perry is promoting, I would rather have the active reforms that Gingrich is promoting, and has proven in the past that he can deliver. Romney simply would improve the present circumstances without making the long-term changes necessary to preserve our exceptional governmental system and society for our grandchildren. Though his management skills would be preferable to Obama’s to get us out of our current mess, we need more than Romney offers.
Therefore, if I can’t have my first choice, I will support my second choice—Newt Gingrich.
Of course this declaration must be tempered by a reflection on Newt’s well-worn baggage. So, I’ll end with my thoughts on this issue.
I think it is fair to say that we all know that Newt has lived life on a large scale, and he’s made many mistakes during that life. In the end, we must ask ourselves, “has he learned and grown from his life experience to be the mature, disciplined leader we need?” The only way we will ever be sure of our answer to this question is through hindsight from a perspective several decades down the road. That means that we must each make our own evaluation based on the information we have now, and will gain as the campaign continues; which means that ultimately we must take a risk by making a decision on less than perfect information. Based on what I have seen and heard to date, I believe I am seeing a man who still has the knowledge, imagination and enthusiasm of his youth, but whose temperament and judgment have matured from the man who rose to be Speaker of the House. These are qualities that are both intangible and invaluable. Each of you may evaluate this differently, but I now believe he is ready to assume the leadership many of us hoped he would grow into 20 years ago.